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    Fine weekend for ‘old’ Boks

    2014-03-09 22:31
    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - Pat Lambie may just find that his untimely bout of illness has inadvertently dented his chances of being first-choice Springbok flyhalf at the start of the international season in June.

    That is still a long way out, of course, but on Saturday his late withdrawal forced a reshuffle of the Sharks backline for their Super Rugby clash with the Lions at Kings Park: powerful inside centre Frans Steyn moved a step closer to the action at No 10 and revelled in the opportunity as the Durban outfit comfortably stretched their winning start to three from three.

    Bok coach Heyneke Meyer, like many others, demands an ace place-kicker in the team midst and it was here that Steyn -- whose ability from long range is sometimes only half-jokingly said to eclipse his accuracy from closer to the posts – produced a significantly flawless performance, landing all of seven attempts in a personal haul of 17 points against the Highvelders.

    It was a reminder, as if it were even needed, of the 26-year-old’s considerable versatility.

    Fitter than he has been for some time, Steyn obviously comes strongly into consideration for either fullback or centre for the Boks again this year, but now his successful restoration to flyhalf – even if it may prove only temporary for the ambitious Sharks’ purposes – also swells Meyer’s mid-year options at No 10.

    Steyn’s France-based namesake, Morne, probably stays in the picture whilst Lambie, another adaptable customer, will also aspire to the national flyhalf berth again and Johan Goosen should prosper more and more with regular game-time for the Cheetahs after a catalogue of disruptive injuries.

    But what makes the 100kg-plus Frans Steyn’s credentials appealing is that the channel sees increasing amounts of the attacking traffic in modern rugby, and his “extra loose forward” build makes him an unusually stout defensive factor there.

    Steyn is also unafraid to smash it up to the gain-line himself, whilst the range and swiftness of his passing is a handy additional device for offensive thrust; the booming nature of his kicking out of hand and off the tee hardly needs further explanation.

    An impulsive and sometimes overly head-strong character in his more youthful days at Test and first-class level, he seems more willing to stick to scripts these days and the return of World Cup 2007-winning coach Jake White as a key mentor to him in Durban is also clearly paying fresh dividends.

    The Aliwal North-born player wasn’t the only still-active kingpin character from that particular Bok era to shine in the latest round of Super Rugby.

    In damp Pretoria, the comeback of Victor Matfield – albeit some 10 years his senior at 36 – continued to gather impressive steam after an iffy start to 2014, predominantly off the Bulls’ bench.

    Now starting routinely once more in the trademark No 5 jersey, Matfield played his part to no less a degree than anyone in a committed forward performance from the hosts at Loftus as they saw off the Blues with something to spare: two defeats on the trot has suddenly become two wins as the three-time champions stabilise their campaign tidily.

    After understandably looking just a little tentative about the contact aspects as he began his return to Super Rugby, Matfield looks much closer to his former self again, not only being a commanding presence at lineouts and kick-offs but also doing his tackle load against the muscular New Zealanders and contributing to the ongoing, welcome scrummaging resurgence of the Bulls.

    It was an unexpected heel against the head that got them up and running towards the bonus-point victory on Saturday – Jacques-Louis Potgieter eventually punctured the Aucklanders’ defence with an inspired break – and in some ways the Bulls may regret the fact that their mini-renaissance is checked by a bye next weekend.

    Still, they will be feeling a lot less apprehensive now about looming Loftus visits from the Sharks and Chiefs respectively, ahead of their overseas tour.

    Meanwhile in the faraway Land of the Long White Cloud -- where the brave Stormers discovered silver linings, alas, are not guaranteed – Schalk Burger finally produced a bristling performance that genuinely screamed “I am back”.

    He was a frenzied, workaholic presence as the Capetonians came within a whisker of upsetting the Crusaders in their own stronghold, before a herculean home fight-back saw the Stormers agonisingly go down 14-13 after having several chances to put the game to bed.

    The blond flanker confirmed that his engine can still purr against the best as he combined typical, bone-crunching defence with illuminating flashes of deft hand-skills.

    Little wonder that TV commentator and former All Black scrumhalf Justin Marshall was moved to say of Burger: “There are thousands of him ... he’s absolutely everywhere.”

    The weekend was a further reminder to Heyneke Meyer that a handful of hugely experienced Boks are hungry to stand up and be counted in green and gold once more.

    Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams first, all times SA):

    Friday: Chiefs v Stormers, 08:35; Rebels v Crusaders, 10:40. Saturday: Hurricanes v Cheetahs, 05:35; Highlanders v Force, 08:35; Brumbies v Waratahs, 10:40; Lions v Blues, 15:00; Sharks v Reds, 17:05. Bye: Bulls.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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